County Louth, also known as the Land of Legends or The Wee County, lies along the east coast of Ireland.
It may be the smallest of Ireland’s thirty-two counties, but don’t overlook this little corner of the Emerald Isle. It boasts multiple heritage sites, dramatic scenery and amazing historical and medieval towns.
From the Boyne Valley on Louth’s southern border to the magnificent Cooley Mountains to the north, County Louth is well worth a visit and is easy to access from Dublin.
And so today, please join me on a photographic tour of County Louth. Here’s a quick armchair video tour to set you off on your journey around County Louth.
Louth – A County In Leinster
County Louth is located in the north eastern corner of the ancient Province of Leinster.
It was originally part of Ulster, but during the 17th century it was transferred to Leinster.
It’s eastern border is part of the Irish coastline.
The picture above is of a flag for the county in red and white with the county crest displayed. The two ships on the crest represent the port towns of Drogheda and Dundalk.
In the Irish language, the county is called Contae Lú (pronounced kun-tay loo).
A small village of Louth, lent its name to the county. The name Lú, comes from the ancient Celtic God, Lúgh, one of the most prominent gods in old Irish myths and legends.
Lúgh was a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and was a mighty warrior, a king concerned with truth, the law and abiding by oaths. The harvest festival of Lughnasadh is named after him.
Ancient Heritage Sites:
This little county is steeped in myth, and legend, and when you visit County Louth you follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s ancient heroes Finn McCool, and Cú Chulainn.
So let’ start our tour with a look at some of County Louth’s ancient heritage sites.
The magnificent Proleek Portal Tomb, can be found on the Cooley Peninsula, and is one of the most impressive dolmens on the whole island. It’s situated in the grounds of Ballymascanlon Hotel.
The capstone on the Proleek Dolmen is massive. It’s known as a portal tomb because the two stones toward the front that bear the large table stone create a portal or entrance.
Our Stone Age forebears were pretty good engineers, to figure out how to balance these stones, so that they would remain standing for milennia.
Cú Chulainn’s Stone:
Clochafarmore is known as Cú Chulainn’s stone, because it was here that the legendary Irish hero died.
The name in the Irish language is, Cloch an Fhir Mhóir (pronounced kluck on irr woe-ir). It literally means the stone of the big man.
Legend has it, that when the mighty Cú Chulainn was mortally wounded in battle he tied himself to this standing stone, so that he could continue to fight. He died standing tall.
An ancient bronze spearhead was found in the field with this standing stone in the 1920’s, adding further credence to the old legend. This field probably genuinely was an ancient battle site.
Legend has it that Ireland’s great mythical giant Fionn MacChumahaill, or Finn McCool, used this rock, found on top of Slieve Martin in the Cooley mountains to slay the giant, Ruscaire.
After using all of his effort to lift this massive stone, Fionn lay down on the mountain, and fell into an eternal sleep. His shape can still be seen in the mountains today.
This is a local legend in County Louth and can be found in the folklore collection of Dúchas online.
Who knows where or how the mighty Fionn met his end, but we’ll listen to all the stories.
The Brown Bull of Cooley:
Thousands of years ago, when Ireland’s mythical rulers roamed the land, a great brown bull lived on the Cooley Peninsula in present day County Louth.
This Brown Bull of Cooley or Donn Cúailgne, (pronounced don koo-in-ya) was the most highly-prized, largest, fiercest and virile bull on the whole island of Ireland.
Queen Maeve of Connacht coveted this bull and she set out with her armies to capture him and bring him back to Connacht to settle a dispute she had with her husband. She wished for the Brown Bull of Ulster to fight her husband’s bull, the White Horned Fionnbennach.
The most famous of ancient Irish battles, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley, featured the legendary Cúchulainn, who singlehandedly fought back all of Maeve’s armies to protect the Brown Bull.
But the wily Maeve still succeeded in capturing Donn Cúailgne (the Brown Bull of Cooley). She took him to Connacht and he fought that white bull in a battle that lasted for days. When the Brown Bull overcame his opponent, he went on a rampage through Connacht and headed straight back to Cooley.
He was so infuriated and quite literally in a bull’s rage, that once he arrived back in his beloved Cooley peninsula, his heart burst with rage and he died.
His spirit still roams the magnificent Cooley Peninsula to this very day.
Townleyhall Neolithic Passage Tomb:
Townley Hall tomb is also part of the Boyne Valley Complex.
The inner chamber is rectangular in shape, which is unusual, since most of these tombs’ inner chambers are a cruciform shape.
It was built around 3000 BC, and from this point in County Louth, the great burial mounds of Newgrange and Dowth can be seen on a clear day.
The Long Woman’s Grave:
Near Omeath in County Louth is the Long Woman’s Grave. The legend of this place tells of Lorcan O’Hanlon who was tricked by his brother, and lost out on inheriting vast lands in County Louth.
Lorcan had promised great lands to a Spanish widow, Cauthleen, whom he dearly loved. They eloped back to Ireland together, against her father’s wishes.
When poor Cauthleen arrived in Ireland and saw that all her beloved Lorcan owned was the hollow side of a mountain, she dropped dead there and then.
Poor Lorcan, in his despair, threw himself off the mountain and was never seen again.
The long Spanish woman is buried on the side of the mountain where she fell. The local people covered her grave in stones and to this very day, stones have been added to mark where she still sleeps in the hollow of her disappointment.
Medieval Castles of County Louth:
Ireland is home to over 30,000 Medieval castles and the countryside of County Louth is peppered with the ruins of many ancient stone castles and keeps.
It’s wonderful to drive through the verdant countryside and spot these beautiful reminders of our ancestors’ homes.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the most prominent castles and ruins in County Louth.
In the town of Ardee, you’ll find a magnificent example of a medieval castle.
Originally built by Roger de Peppard in 1207, it’s one of the largest stone keeps in Ireland.
The town of Ardee was located along a border, where the Gaelic-Irish controlled the northern part of the country, and the Anglo-Normans controlled the south. As you can well imagine, many a skirmish broke out around Ardee and this magnificent castle was an important military outpost.
It’s located in the center of the town and it played a significant role in the town’s defenses in medieval times.
Today it is the Ardee courthouse and holds other civic offices.
The ruined remains of Castleroche are found high on a hill to the north-west of Dundalk, County Louth. Built in 1236 this was the seat of the De Verdun family.
In 1641, Cromwellian armies raided and ransacked this magnificent fortress. It has remained in ruins every since.
Now, this castle held a tragic history, even before Cromwellian times.
The castle was commissioned by a wealthy widow, Lady Rohesia de Verdun, a notoriously fiery and hot-tempered woman. No castle designer, architect or builder would agree to work for her.
To accomplish her dream castle, she offered her hand in marriage plus a share of her vast wealth to the brave architect that would design and build her vision.
Once the spectacular castle was completed, her wedding to the architect was promptly arranged. But the bold, Rohesia had no intention of sharing her fortune.
On the eve of her wedding, she threw her intended out a window of the castle, and to this very day that window is called ‘murder window.’
Castletown Motte – Cú Chulainn’s Castle:
In Dundalk, at a place called Castletown Motte, stands the ruin of an 18th century building on top of a large mound.
This castellated monument is known as ‘Byrne’s Folly’ and it was built by local pirate called Patrick Byrne, around 1780. But the history of this site is far longer and deeper than this monument.
This is the ancient site of the fort of Dún Dealgan, (prounounced Doon Dal-gan) and it means ‘The Fort of Dealga’.
It was here that Ireland’s legendary hero and warrior Cú Chulainn was born.
King John’s Castle, Carlingford:
The ruins of this massive medieval castle is situated in the town of Carlingford, County Louth.
Originally built by a Norman knight called Hugh de Lacy, it is also known as King John’s Castle. It was here that King John stayed for a few days during the year 1210.
It is a national monument today.
Authorities have deemed it unsafe to enter the inside of the castle, but visitors can walk around these magnificent ruins.
The Mint, Carlingford:
Along the quaint and historic streets of Carlingford, County Louth, you’ll find a tower castle, known as The Mint.
Built by the Carlingford Family around the 15th century, it is believed that it was designed to be a place to mint coins.
Supporting evidence is found in the fact that in the year 1467, King Edward IV of England granted a mint licence to Carlingford.
St. Laurence’s Gate and Drogheda Walls:
St Laurence’s Gate, in the town of Drogheda was the entrance gate to the walled town.
It is a spectacular site to see, with two massive, lofty circular towers connected by a stone archway.
Drogheda was a stronghold of the Anglo Normans. They built this impressive town on the banks of the River Boyne and completed the stone wall enclosure in 1334.
Medieval Drogheda was one of the largest walled towns of the time with over one hundred and thirteen acres.
Ireland is a spiritual island. When Christianity was embraced by the Celts, they expressed their new faith and ancient beliefs at sacred cultural sites, in nearly every corner of Ireland.
In County Louth many sacred sites remain, that can be counted among Ireland’s thin places. Here are a few of note.
The ruined remains of an early Irish monastery are seen at Dromiskin. Founded by Lugaid, a follower of Saint Patrick himself, there has been a monastery here since the 5th century.
The Vikings attacked Dromiskin in 833. It operated as a monastery until the 12th century.
Dromiskin is home to a round tower that is over one thousand years old. It’s a little shorter than many of these impressive bell towers found in Ireland.
A 10th century Celtic High Cross is also found at this monastery.
St. Brigid’s Shrine:
Known as Mary of the Gael, Saint Brigid is said to have been born here at Faughart in County Louth.
She is one of our national patrons. This site was home to an ancient sacred well, which became Saint Brigid’s holy well, when the ancient Celts became Christians.
For centuries pilgrims have visited this sacred site to honor Saint Brigid.
It is also home to a series of penitential stations that comprise very ancient stones. Here you can see a double ballaun stone, which was a stone carved to hold water in ancient Ireland.
Hill of Faughart:
Nearby to Saint Brigid’s Shrine, in a graveyard on the Hill of Faughart, you’ll find the burial site of Edward Bruce, the brother of the famous Scottish King, Robert the Bruce.
Edward joined forces with the northern Gaelic clans to try to revive the old Celtic ways in Ireland. His goal was to overthrow the Anglo Norman rulers of the eastern part of Leinster and Ireland.
Edward Bruce was named High King of Ireland, but his defeat and death at the Battle of Faughart on the 14th of October, 1318 ended all attempts to revive the High Kingship of Ireland.
Edward Bruce’s Scots-Irish army was defeated by a Hiberno-Norman force from Leinster, under the leadership of John de Bermingham.
Old Mellifont Abbey:
In 1142, Saint Malachy founded the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland at Mellifont.
Th ruins of the monastery are a beautiful reminder of Ireland’s deep monastic history. There is a stillness and peace at this site to this very day.
The ruined remains of a very unusual octagonal building stand as a reminder of our cultural inheritance. This is one of County Louth’s most photographed tourist attractions.
This building was known as a lavabo, or a communal washing place for the monks, and dates back to around 1210.
In the 6th century a monastery was founded at Monasterboice.
The original monastery is no longer there, but the site consists of two old 10th century churches, three Celtic Crosses, a round tower, and an ancient sundial.
The round tower is missing its conical cap and is about 100 feet high.
There is a peace and an aura at this site that must be experienced to be understood.
Saint Mochta’s House:
Saint Mochta was a disciple of Saint Patrick, and around 528 he founded this monastery in County Louth.
The early monastery was replaced in the 12th century with the buildings we now see in ruins today. This was an Augustinian Priory.
Saint Mochta’s House stands intact behind the ruins of the old church.
It is a beloved and notable landmark around County Louth.
Kildemock – The Jumping Church:
The Church at Kildemock near Ardee, is know locally as the ‘Jumping Church’. It dates back to the 13th century.
The west gable wall of the church, which is all that remains, has jumped inward a few feet from its original foundations.
Local legend and lore reports that the mysterious event happened on a night in February 1715 during a ferocious storm.
At that time, the people believed the west gable of the building jumped off its foundation to place the burial spot of an excommunicated church member outside the sanctuary of the church.
I don’t know who this poor soul was, but he or she had previously been buried inside the church. Even nature was not going to allow this to continue, and so the church wall took a massive leap, or so the legend says.
Saint Oliver Plunkett Shrine:
If you grew up in Dublin in the 1970’s like I did, then more than likely, your school went on a tour to this shrine in honor of Saint Oliver Plunkett, to see the saint’s head on display.
Born at Loughcrew near Oldcastle, Co Meath, Oliver Plunkett trained for the priesthood on the continent. Ordained as a priest in 1654 he became Archbishop of Armagh in 1669.
He brought the Jesuits to Drogheda and opened schools there. He lived at a time of persecution of the Irish Catholic Church.
He was arrested and tried for treason in London. In 1681 he was martyered at Tyburn. Most children in Ireland when I was young, knew that Blessed Oliver Plunkett was hung, drawn and quartered. In 1975, he was canonized a saint, the first Irish saint in over 700 years
He was the last Catholic martyr to die in England. His preserved head is enshrined in Saint Peter’s Church in Drogheda.
A Dominican Friary once stood where the belfry Magdalene Tower now stands.
The monastery was founded in 1224, and was located inside the northern walls of the town of Drogheda.
The unusual tower we see today was a 14th-century construction.
At this site in 1367 the Gaelic chiefs of Ulster under the O’Neills, submitted to Richard II of England.
Scenery And Landscape:
County Louth is full of lush and verdant farmland, with breathtaking scenery.
The Great Eastern Greenway:
Running along the southern shore of Carlingford Lough, you’ll find the Great Eastern Greenway.
This 7.7 kilometer cycleway and path was built mostly along an old railway line, between Omeath and Carlingford.
It’s a great place to cycle, especially for little ones, since the path is very flat and not too demanding.
You’ll cross over old level crossings, and take in breathtaking views of Carlingford Lough, the Cooley Mountains and the Mountains of Mourne.
The scenery along the coastline and mountains of the Cooley Peninsula is spectacular.
Here are some lovely photos of all that County Louth has to offer.
The Cooley Mountains are ideal for hikers with the highest point being Slieve Foy at 588 metres high.
From the Cooley Mountain trails, you’ll find gorgeous views of Carlingford Lough and the Mountains of Mourne.
County Louth’s fertile land means it has been home to farming communities since Celtic times. In the 18th and 19th centuries most inhabitants of the county were rural tenant farmers with landlords living in large homes, on vast estates.
Some of these stately homes survive to this day, and are a significant part of our history. It’s wonderful to see these homes transformed into amazing amenities for the people of Ireland.
Here are two of the many magnificent homes or “big houses” that are found in County Louth.
Rokeby Hall was built around 1785, and is a country house in the Neoclassical style.
The beautiful exterior of this elegant building stands as a testament to the vision of its architects and to the skilled craftspeople, who created a building that has stood the test of time.
Tours of this home are available at certain times of the year.
The interior detailing, remains largely unchanged from the original and is a significant cultural inheritance for the people of County Louth.
Beaulieu House overlooks the banks of the River Boyne.
It’s history is over 800 hundred years old and over the centuries it has been home to just two families, the Plunketts and the Tichbournes.
This ancient estate is just over three miles from the town of Drogheda.
The house is shared with the public through guided tours and the gardens are also a wonderful place to escape the stresses of everyday life. It’s also a wedding venue and has been the setting for some period dramas.
Towns And Villages:
Next we’ll take a quick look at a few of County Louth’s picturesque and historical towns.
Ardee is one of County Louth’s main towns, with a long history. The town of Ardee grew at a ford on the River Dee.
However it gets its name from its association with Ferdia, an important figure in Irish mythology. In Irish its names is Áth Fhirdhia which means the Ford of Ferdia.
The name became Ardee over the centuries, as it was gradually shortened to create an English language version of the town name.
The surrounding landscape is comprised of fertile farmland making Ardee a busy market town.
The sculpture photographed above can be seen in Ardee, and it marks the significance of Ardee in Irish mythology.
It was here that Cú Chulainn fought and killed his foster brother Ferdia in a four day battle that was part of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Cú Chulainn killed Ferdia with the Gae Bolga, a fearsome magic spear. He was devastated by his actions, and sworn duty to defend Ulster that resulted in him killing his beloved foster brother.
The mighty, and heartbroken CúChulainn carried Ferdia across the ford at Ardee, so that his friend could die with honor.
This magnificent bronze sculpture was created by the sculptor Ann Meldon-Hugh. It commemorates this mythical battle, marking its significance in the history of County Louth and Ireland.
Blackrock is a popular seaside village nestled on the shoreline of the Irish Sea. It was an ancient fishing village, that has grown to become a tourist destination.
Its beautiful beaches are Blackrock’s main attraction. This is a haven for sea swimmers, families and water sport enthusiasts.
Its protected Wetlands and bird sanctuaries are well worth a visit for nature lovers. The village boasts a Promenade and an award winning park and recreational facilities.
Carlingford is a unique destination and one of the best preserved medieval villages or towns on the Emerald Isle.
Here you can wander through narrow medieval streets, and feel as if you have taken a magical step back in time.
In Carlingford, the past is all around you. This village is full of character and is located in a picturesque harbor, surrounded by the majesty of Slieve Foye, and with the world famous Mountains of Mourne visible across the lough.
Carlingford will take your breath away.
Drogheda’s name has Irish language origins and it means bridge of the ford.
The River Boyne has played a significant role in this town’s history. It was a Norman town, founded by Hugh de Lacy when he was granted a town charter in 1194.
Drogheda was a walled town, and its gates and walls played a significant role in the town’s history. Edward Bruce attacked the town in 1917, but the walls stood strong against that invasion. In 1642, Phelim O’Neill, a Gaelic lord from Ulster, tried to take Drogheda, but failed.
However, the people of Drogheda were not so lucky in 1649. Cromwell and his army breached the walls. They sacked the town, and rampaged through the streets massacring the inhabitants who were Catholic.
They killed over two thousand Royalist sympathisers. Many of the town’s women and children were deported as slaves to Barbados.
Our final stop on today’s tour is in County Louth’s largest town, Dundalk. It is the county town.
It officially became a town in 1189, so it has a long and interesting history.
The town’s name was originally Dún Dalgan, which became anglicized to Dundalk.
It is the birthplace of Cú Chulainn, and the town’s crest takes note of this fact. In Irish it reads:
Mé do rug Cú Chulainn Cróga
Phonetic pronuciation is: May duh rug Koo Kul-in Crow-gah and it means:
I gave birth to brave Cú Chulainn
In a land that love’s legends and myths, that is a true claim to fame.
Seatown Castle, picture above is all that remains of a church tower that was once part of a thriving Franciscan Friary in Dundalk. It dates back to around 1245.
This monastery was dissolved in October, 1540, as Henry VIII wreaked havoc on Irish monastic life.
St. Nicholas’s Church of Ireland is found in Church Street, and locals lovingly call it,’the Green Church’. This building dates back to the 13th century, with the nave and tower surviving from the medieval period.
These ancient churches remain as evidence of a rich medieval past. Dundalk is also home to the County Museum.
Dundalk is one of the most historical towns in Ireland. Saint Patrick, Finn McCool, the mythical Cú Chulainn, the Vikings, the Normans and Cromwell have all left their mark here, and in the surrounding countryside.
Online Jigsaws Featuring Scenes From County Louth:
If you would like to recreate some images of County Louth, why not try out one of these online jigsaw puzzles, available right here on my blog.
You can recreate the lavabo building at Old Mellifont Abbey here.
Plus you can piece together one of the stone archways and medieval streets of Carlingford here.
And so we have come to the end of our photographic tour of the mythical sites, sacred places, ancient tombs, dolmens, cairns, medieval castles, ruined monasteries, high crosses, and magnificent scenery of County Louth.
Without doubt, County Louth can proudly claim to be Ireland’s “land of legends.”
You can learn more about this county and plan a visit using the Visit Louth website.
Happy armchair travels around Ireland
If you would like to check out other stops in our alphabetical tour of Ireland county-by-county, here you’ll find all of the stops along our way so far.
Our previous stop on our journey was in County Longford.
And next up we’ll head west to County Mayo.
Thanks for stopping by and for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
Here are some more recipes and ramblings you might enjoy…